When it comes to content marketing, B2C brands get to have all the fun…right?
While tactics like Buzzfeed-style quizzes or Duolingo’s viral TikTok strategy might not be the best fit for your B2B brand, you still need creative and compelling content to engage, retain, and convert your target audience. In fact, because the sales cycle for B2B companies is often much longer than that of B2C brands, building brand credibility by delivering valuable content may be even more impactful.
Ready to take advantage of the business benefits content marketing offers B2B brands? In this article, we’ll break down:
- The difference between B2C and B2B content marketing and why it matters for your brand.
- Four real-world examples of B2B content marketing and what makes them so effective.
- How you can use proven B2B content marketing strategies to grow your own business.
Do B2B brands need content marketing?
Absolutely! When it comes to developing meaningful customer relationships, content is the most valuable tool in your marketing arsenal. Rather than bombarding potential customers with interruptive tactics, B2B brands can use content marketing to build credibility with individual members of their target audience — members who possess the buying power to transform prospective clients into loyal customers.
With 66% of B2B brands planning to increase their content marketing budget in 2022, this inbound marketing strategy is also critical to remaining competitive in the online marketplace. Creating high-quality content builds brand awareness and positions your brand as an industry thought leader, helping you stand out from the competition in the eyes of your target audience.
How is B2B content marketing different from B2C content marketing?
At face value, B2B content marketing appears wildly different from B2C content marketing. While the specific content marketing tactics may differ among B2B and B2C marketers, the underlying strategy — to create valuable content that organically engages potential customers — remains quite similar.
Still, B2B content marketers must have different considerations than their B2C counterparts. Some of those considerations include:
- Sales cycle. While a B2C business like Under Armour may have a week- or month-long sales cycle, many B2B businesses see months- or years-long sales cycles, because their product or service is often more complex or more expensive than a retail product (like pair of shoes or sweatshirt). Remaining cognizant of the elongated sales cycle, these content marketers face the challenge of crafting B2B content marketing strategies that nurture consumers throughout the entire sales funnel.
- Audience, messaging, and value propositions. The starkest difference between B2B content marketing strategies and their B2C counterparts is who receives the messaging and how. B2B content marketers speak to other businesses, not individuals in their personal lives. While B2B content marketing strategies can use emotion as a tactic, logic and industry expertise are far more common. In addition, B2B content marketers tend to use white papers, webinars, and eBooks to advertise their value proposition rather than solely relying on social media platforms and email marketing.
- Goals. B2C content marketers tend to explain individual use cases of their product or solution, while the goal of B2B content marketing often focuses on the sweeping uses of a product or service to solve a business’s problem. Where a B2C content marketer would write content about a solution to Jane Doe’s constantly-dirty make-up brushes, a B2B content marketer would create content with advice or a solution for Company ABC’s long-standing issue of employee turnover.
Related article: 6 Things to Know When Starting Content Marketing
4 outstanding examples of B2B content marketing
To illustrate our points, we’ve found four flawless examples of B2B content marketing. Semrush, Kickstarter, Slack, and Buffer use content marketing differently to accomplish their business goals but the outcome is the same — clear, convincing messaging that gets results.
Founded in 2008, the now publicly-traded SaaS company Semrush illustrates an outstanding example of B2B content marketing through its industry-leading, actionable content creation. Semrush remains a staple software for many SEOs and content marketers, as it offers a suite of tools for in-depth keyword research, competitor analysis, and more.
Semrush’s content strategy focuses on creating actionable content for users that keep them coming back. In 2008, the business was born out of the need for more organic traffic information — and a decade and a half later, Semrush continues to solve that major pain point for digital marketers. Semrush’s blog covers topics from SEO and digital marketing channels to content strategy and search industry news to establish itself as a thought leader.
Though it takes effort, seemingly anyone could create an in-depth blog about a particular topic — right? Not exactly. Semrush’s calculated approach includes developing a massive library of educational resources and a catalog of helpful content — from eBooks and webinars to original research and case studies. As one of the top names in the search engine optimization industry, Semrush partners with individual thought leaders to help build out its resources and education certifications, like Brian Dean, Greg Gifford, and Nathan Gotch.
Why it works
Semrush’s educational content marketing strategy works for several reasons:
- It informs users how to use the product with actionable, real-life uses.
- It offers professionally relevant resources that employees can use to improve their work or their personal resumes.
- It establishes authority within the digital marketing and search engine industries.
- It uses industry leaders who act as pseudo-brand ambassadors to reach a larger audience base.
Semrush demos its own product when providing examples and tutorials in its educational content to showcase the value of its product. This clever approach communicates Semrush’s unique value proposition without having to make an overt sales pitch. In addition, Semrush Academy and the growing Semrush certification program develops a level of brand authority that B2B customers can capitalize on.
Kickstarter uses content marketing to tell its own brand story by empowering its users to do the same. Founded in 2009, Kickstarter is a public benefit corporation focused on global crowdfunding for creative projects like fashion, music, food, tech, and more. Since its inception, Kickstarter has generated billions of dollars for project owners, millions of people have donated, and hundreds of thousands of projects have been successfully funded.
How is Kickstarter a stellar example of B2B content marketing? Its various publishing channels (such as Kickstarter Magazine, The Creative Independent, and a range of curated newsletters) simultaneously generate visibility for its customers while fueling activity and visibility for its own platform. Though every social share of an individual project may appear to service a single creator, the backers of the project visit Kickstarter’s website and experience the company’s platform, helpful customer service, and inspiring content.
Science tells us that we’re hard-wired for stories: to both tell and listen to them. This is where Kickstarter finds its success — its project owners tell wonderful stories that build relationships with strangers, create a community, and curate trust and loyalty among followers. Kickstarter asks project owners to post a video to the project page explaining why they’re so passionate about what they’re asking for money for. The organization uses content marketing as a vehicle for brand storytelling to convince and persuade patrons to back a project.
Why it works
Kickstarter’s content marketing strategy of using brand storytelling succeeds because it humanizes the brand (and the creators), leverages emotion, and creates a reciprocal relationship between project owners and the company that sets both parties up for success.
Kickstarter recognized the importance of brand identity in purchasing decisions and leaned into it. By focusing its content strategy around the creators who use the platform, Kickstarter aligns itself with the creator economy and taps into the social networks of its customers to facilitate its own growth.
As mentioned above, Kickstarter’s hybrid approach to content marketing with branded and user-generated content (UGC) enables a successful symbiotic relationship. When Kickstarter’s user base succeeds, the company succeeds.
Related article: 4 Companies That Have Mastered Brand Storytelling
Slack creates multiple touchpoints with its target audience by producing cross-channel content. Founded in 2009, Slack’s popular proprietary communication platform became invaluable to businesses when work went remote in April 2020 after global COVID-19 shutdowns. Slack’s software solution brands itself as a “digital HQ” for companies to communicate — whether they’re in the next office, working on a hybrid schedule, or across the globe from their coworkers.
The company experiments with different mediums and publishing platforms — its multimedia content marketing portfolio includes live and on-demand events, a podcast, a lively cross-channel social media presence, and a blog featuring curated collections for various audience segments.
A recent example of Slack’s cross-platform content marketing success came in the form of a tweet thread in May 2022 for global #AccessibilityAwarenessDay. Slack leveraged the strength of threads and hashtags on Twitter to capitalize on the already-trending topic of accessibility while subtly marketing its own accessibility improvements over the last year — including adding descriptions to files and images, captions to videos and gifs, support for larger texts, and updates to screen reader usability.
Slack’s cross-channel strategy remains a great example of B2B content marketing because it focuses on solving the end user’s problems (remote communication) on any and every channel that user may interact with.
Why it works
Slack leverages a range of content platforms and mediums to connect with its audience at every stage of the sales funnel. In fact, Slack’s former Global Head of Digital Marketing, Holly Chen, gives the advice to “Go where your audience goes — even if it’s not a common channel,” to find content marketing opportunities and success.
Chen’s strategy hinges on using B2C strategies for a B2B business — like investing in research, prioritizing performance campaigns, tying brand marketing to outcomes, and not being afraid to experiment with new channels — because individual people are still making purchasing decisions.
Slack’s strategy to diversify content across channels also works because each message complements its partners. Social posts work with and promote blog posts, videos and tutorials can be repurposed for social media or illustrate an article, and podcasts can compile and distill existing information into a more digestible format for Slack’s on-the-go audience.
While Buffer’s content mix is fairly streamlined (a blog, newsletter, and two podcasts — Breaking Brand and The Science of Social Media), the company excels in leveraging social media channels to grow its audience and brand trust through repurposed content and UGC. Buffer itself is a social media management tool that enables users to schedule posts to popular social platforms like TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. Buffer also supports audience engagement and social analytics/reporting.
Buffer uses distinct content marketing avenues on its blog to target three audience segments and their corresponding content verticals (marketing, engineering, and workplace culture). FLOW features real-life marketing stories and trends for Buffer’s marketing professionals audience. Open includes actionable lessons for business professionals in charge of workplace culture, which may be a founder or CEO, HR specialist, happiness manager, or another position. <Overflow> specifically serves developers, software engineers, and IT professionals with resources, education, and opinion pieces from Buffer’s engineer team.
On the social front, Buffer’s UGC runs the show. Every week, followers will see spotlighted content from real-life users of Buffer in the company’s social posts. On Instagram, Buffer uses UGC for both company updates (like this one about TikTok scheduling) and to promote content (like this blog article promotion).
Why it works
Buffer’s strategy relies heavily on the human element of marketing by creating transparent and relatable content that resonates with its target audience. Like Slack, Buffer recognizes the similarities in B2B and B2C marketing: creating a personal connection with an individual buyer.
Brian Gregg Peters, Buffer’s former Director of Strategic Partnerships, explains the value of Buffer’s UGC tactics against the backdrop of the company’s larger digital marketing strategy, citing that each piece of content should have a purpose, provide value to the end users, and humanize the brand.
While some may think Buffer’s UGC success comes from it being a “big name” in the industry, the victory is a reward for daily intentional efforts of user engagement on social platforms. Buffer responds to many — if not all — comments on its Instagram posts, retweets and responds to mentions on Twitter, and more.
Related article: Content Marketing Trends To Incorporate Into Your 2022 Strategy
4 B2B content marketing strategies to grow your business
1. Establish thought leadership
By understanding the buyer’s journey, companies can create their own B2B content marketing strategies that provide value to their audience’s lives while also establishing themselves as an expert resource that an audience can rely on — otherwise known as a thought leader.
Thought leadership can be established through a B2B content marketing strategy that uses podcasts, case studies, blogs, whitepapers, videos, webinars, and more. By utilizing these channels to create unique and informative content, brands can prove to their audience that they are credible and knowledgeable in the field and have useful insight which can be of benefit to the audience.
Consumers want to know what a brand can offer them — by being a thought leader, you can prove that value to your audience by showcasing your expertise.
2. Diversify your content
While the right content for your brand will depend on your company’s goals and audience, diversifying your content is a key way to garner attention from others and improve your B2B content marketing strategies.
For example, those looking to improve their SEO or brand awareness will find publishing articles to be effective. Or, if you’re trying to build credibility or communicate insights, you’ll want to tell stories to your audience using reputable data sources and original research.
Infographics are another great way to share data and build brand awareness, as they allow you to break down a process in a shareable and compelling format. Effective infographics have appealing visuals and a strong narrative, and they are distributed in a shareable way to improve brand awareness.
Most audiences see a lot of content throughout their daily lives. By diversifying your content and keeping it fresh, your audience is more likely to retain your messaging and work with your business.
3. Expertly define your audience
To have effective content marketing, companies need to identify and define who their audience is. Once a company has determined its target audience, it must then use that information to determine how that audience interacts with other brands and peers online, as well as what keywords will draw them in.
Determining your target audience will allow you to create buyer personas, which companies can use to understand the ways their audience makes purchasing decisions. These personas reflect a brand’s target audience and allow marketers to make data-driven decisions about how best to create focused and relevant content for its target audience.
Expertly defining your audience allows you to create content suited specifically to those you’re trying to target. It ensures that no resources go to waste and gives a better sense of what kind of content is most effective and engaging for your audience.
4. Create content worth reading
Even if a company determines its audience and creates content that reaches them, it means nothing if that content isn’t worth reading.
In fact, 48% of purchase decision-makers find B2B advertising to be boring, according to Gather Content. To create appealing content, get creative and try new ideas, such as creating a community for your audience to talk to and engage with one another, or reimagining your existing content to make it more enticing. For example, by incorporating quotes and infographics into a long-form piece, you can make your content more digestible for consumers and improve its chances of resonating with them.
Brands should focus on creating unique and user-focused content that will provide value or solve a problem that their audience is facing. Doing so creates a “need” for your brand — it shows the audience ways your company provides value and improves their lives. This, in turn, demonstrates to consumers that your product is necessary, which can lead to lasting customers.
Lightning Media Partners creates powerful, conversion-driving content for our clients in a variety of industries. If you’re looking for a partner to help scale your content marketing efforts, we’d love to have a complimentary discovery call with you to explore how we can help.
Miranda Fraraccio and Helen Eckhard also contributed to this article.